Growing a food or beverage company is a constant uphill climb, and breaking out to the top of your category can often feel far away. In addition to having a great product that people love, it’s also necessary to grow your shelf presence, brand awareness, and partnerships. While this is without a doubt challenging, it’s far from impossible, and knowing the right tools to expand your brand’s presence and availability for customers can help save you some of the trouble that may arise.
At our most recent Repsly Power Hour, we welcomed three guests who have successfully grown their beverage brands from simple ideas into popular shelf staples. Our guests Melissa Kalimov of RISE Brewing Company, J.D. Altobello of RIPE Craft Juicery, and Kevin Martin of Privateer Rum shared some great insight and firsthand experience on the steps it took for their companies to reach the next stages of growth.
While the experiences and paths throughout the process were all very different, our panelists all agreed on these three keys to growth. There is no formula for growing a brand, but these tips -- each highlighted by one of our speakers-- are bound to point you in the right direction.
Perfect Your Product
For many emerging brands, getting their products out and into the hands of consumers as soon as possible is a key concern. They may be racing to be ready for a big event, season, or simply want to start earning revenue as soon as possible. This can backfire, however, and our guests weighed in on the importance of getting your product right before you do anything else.
Rise Brewing: Use Quality to Create Superfans
Melissa stressed the importance of perfecting your product before you start to worry about growth. RISE is roughly a two or three year old company, but Melissa joked that RISE’s founders would argue that the company has been around for almost 5 years.
Where’s the difference in time coming from, you ask? It comes from the nearly two years that the founders spent perfecting the recipe and ingredients of their delicious cold-brew coffee, before moving on to any business operations. While some may think this was time wasted, the guys at RISE would certainly disagree.
Melissa explained that pleasing customers with their coffee is the most important part of RISE’s business operations, and that they’re only going to “reach for it if they really like what they’re drinking.” In order to emerge as a contender in the industry and build a network of “superfans,” it’s eventually going to pay off to have a better and more complete product than to rush something inferior to the shelves.
RISE saw the benefit of their commitment to perfection as soon as the product was available to customers. By simply giving away kegs of RISE coffee to offices and restaurants, they immediately built a network of obsessed superfans who became the core of RISE’s customers. Spending those two years to get the recipe just right didn’t slow the brand’s growth, but actually accelerated it in the long run. To sum up, take your time with your product, and get it right above all else.
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Conquer the Local Market
Once you’ve got your foot in the door, the next step is to establish yourself as a regular player in the industry. It’s essential to reach new customers in new ways to expand your brand’s presence and awareness among them. However, expanding doesn’t necessarily mean going global. Growing companies can expand their reach without increasing the distance from headquarters at all, and the way to do this is by conquering the local market .
When building a passionate customer base who loves your brand, don’t worry too much about how far away they are.
As Melissa suggests, “it’s better to have people who are near you be obsessed with you, than to be really thin everywhere.” Work on getting new customers or retailers in the area to want your product. This is what our guests had to say about growing locally:
Ripe Craft Juicery: Expand Your Options Locally
J.D. gave us many ways that brands can expand without moving to a new state. For the team at RIPE, it has been all about expanding their options, rather than expanding geographically. In the case of RIPE, this meant finding new ways to reach new customers, without the logistics or required resources of travelling all over the world.
A great line from J.D. about remaining local was to “go to where the locals are.” While the concept is simple, committing to it has been a key element to RIPE’s growth. RIPE touted their brand at as many nearby events, locations, or expos as possible, even if they were unconventional. These included:
- Farmer’s markets
- Bars and restaurants
- Liquor stores
- Promotions and events with local media
This concept is applicable for brands across all stages of growth. For example, Mondelez International CEO Dirk Van de Put stated that when making plans for expansion, “local teams need to be the drivers of the agenda, and the center needs to be in service of those local agendas.” He also noted that it’s important to be “much more nimble, much faster, and experiment more” in the ways you try to reach new fans.
Conquering the local market is all about being creative with respect to finding new customers who could benefit from your product, and being able to put the brand out in front of new eyes. This method can gain your brand much stronger and more diverse customer base, all without spreading yourself thin across too many different areas.
Spice It up, but Keep Your Core Image
You’ve emerged in the industry, you’ve expanded your customer base, and now it’s time to “breakout.” How do you do this? The answer is to keep it interesting. Constantly be looking for new ways to spice up your product or marketing, which will draw more attention and customers to your brand.
In the case of our panelists, this often meant introducing new promotional flavors or editions of their beverages. While this is a great way to attract new eyes, it’s also important not to change too much and dilute your core products. Having too many product offerings at one time often causes market confusion about what your brand really is. Here’s what our panelists told us about finding just the right amount of spice:
Privateer Rum: Keep a Small but Diverse Catalog
When Privateer was trying to reach that top level of growth, they introduced many different flavors of their delicious all-natural rum. However, this quickly became an issue, as the introduction of too many variations diluted the image of their banner product, the amber rum.
Their solution was to only have a small number of variations at a given time. By providing seasonal mixes of their rum that rotated throughout the year, Privateer was able to spark new interest about their brand without making their catalog too big. Each seasonal promotion, called the “Distiller’s Drawer,” is a one-time-only variation of the company’s more core products, and incentivizes fans to buy it quickly before it goes away.
When breaking out to new customers, don’t forget your superfans! Another key to reaching breakout status is continuing to please old customers. Kevin told a story about when the team at Privateer was debating changing the shape of the bottle to have a wider bottom and shorter neck, in order to make it look more like market-leading rum brands and have a bigger presence on the shelf.
Kevin realized that roughly 70% of Privateer’s customers came from bars and restaurants, and that the bottle’s shape was something that most customers loved. The narrow shape and long neck of Privateer’s bottles made it easy for bartenders to store in the well, grab quickly, and pour. It turned out that their bottle shape was actually preferred over other rum companies.
Don’t be afraid to try new approaches to reach new levels of growth, but nothing is more important than your brand’s key image.
Our three speakers shared some great stories and tips about how to take your brand to the next level. While their paths and process differed, their key takeaways were the same:
- Perfect your product
- Conquer the local market
- Spice it up, but keep your core image
A big thanks to our guests for joining us at the Repsly Power Hour! For even more examples and insights from each of our guests, watch the full video in our recap post here!
Dan MacDonald is a Content Marketing Journalist for Repsly, who enjoys writing and using creativity to solve problems. He is studying Economics at Tufts University, and is an offensive lineman on the Tufts Football team. In his free time, Dan enjoys playing the guitar and the piano, hiking, and watching sports.